In all societies, a primary function of music is collective and communal, to bring and bind people together. People sing together and dance together in every culture, and one can imagine having done so around the first fires, a hundred thousand years ago. This primal role of music is to some extent lost today, when we have a special class of composers and performers, with the rest of us often reduced to passive listening. We have to go to a concert, or a church, or a musical festival to re-experience music as a social activity, to recapture the collective excitement and bonding of music. In such a situation, music is a communal experience, and there seems to be, in some sense, an actual binding or “marriage” of nervous systems.
The binding is accomplished by rhythm—not only heard but internalized, identically, in all who are present. Rhythm turns listeners into participants, makes listening active and motoric, and synchronizes the brains and minds (and, since emotion is always intertwined with music, the “hearts”) of all who participate. It is very difficult to remain detached, to resist being drawn into the rhythm of chanting or dancing.
If music is my Higher Power, then rhythm is my prayer & concert is my church.
Find me on the dancefloor — I’ll be the guy cutting shapes with Jesus & Buddha.